When the NFL schedule was released, the Patriots' road game at Houston was a big deal for the league, as signified by the Sunday Night Football slot on Dec. 1. After all, you're talking about two defending division champions who have had their last two matchups decided by seven points or less.
But Patriots fans should really make this game appointment viewing, because this could be one of their classic "eff you" games for New England. The scoreboard operator might just get a workout.
Obviously, there's been some strife between the two franchises this offseason. The Texans sought to interview Patriots director of player personnel Nick Caserio for Houston's general manager position. The Patriots countered by filing a tampering charge, which was rescinded when the Texans halted their pursuit of Caserio.
But the Patriots, or at least certain influential members of the organization, are still plenty miffed with the Texans.
"They are livid," said one source.
"This totally pissed them off," said another.
New England's unhappiness toward Houston doesn't have much to do with the Caserio situation. According to multiple team sources, the Patriots are irate over the departure of former Team Development Director/Character Coach Jack Easterby. And if certain people in the organization had their way, the Patriots would take it out on the Texans on Dec. 1.
Why? It's personal.
The first thing to know about Easterby is you won't find many people at One Patriot Place who will say a bad word about him or the work he did when he was employed by the team. He was part chaplain, friend, confidant, coach and scout, and he connected with a lot of employees and their families. Easterby is universally regarded as a great person who had a real impact on the entire organization.
"Jack has been great to me and my family," said one source. "He's a great person. But he's also human..."
... A human with desires. And, for Easterby, that includes being a general manager or even higher within an NFL organization. And it's that understated lust for power — and his desire to be around power — that has left many feeling Easterby is a bit of an opportunist with an agenda.
Easterby might have started in football as a team chaplain. But his road has been no different than every other staffer with dreams of being a head coach or general manager.
While the character coach for the University of South Carolina from 2006-10, Easterby would fall into the orbit of many scouts and power brokers during draft preparation. Get close enough to the right person, and you're in the NFL.
Enter Scott Pioli, who brought Easterby to the Chiefs in 2011. Linebacker Jovan Belcher committed his murder-suicide on Dec. 1, 2012, and Pioli and coach Romeo Crennel were fired a little more than a month later, leaving Easterby in limbo as Andy Reid came aboard. But it was onward and upward for Easterby, as he landed with the Patriots soon after that in the wake of the Aaron Hernandez situation. That job came as the result of a recommendation from Pioli to Bill Belichick.
After six years with the Patriots, which included three Super Bowl titles — which Easterby did have a role in — he departed for the Texans this past offseason. Easterby, with his grander aspirations, had to know he had little chance of landing a personnel role under Belichick, who does not deviate from his belief that scouts and coaches should rise from the lowliest of ranks within an organization. So he began looking for other opportunities, with the Panthers and Dolphins (former Patriots defensive coordinator Brian Flores) among the potential suitors. Easterby and/or his agent let it be known he had other interest. Belichick attempted to retain Easterby, but he left for more power, a better title and more opportunity for the Texans.
O'Brien did not overlap with Easterby in New England, and it is unknown how he came upon O'Brien's radar. But it's believed to be a combination of agent Bob Lamonte (who represents Caserio and Easterby) and Texans director of college scouting James Liipfert, the former Patriots scout.
"Jack likes power. And maybe even more than that, he likes being around power," said a Patriots source. "He gets influence because he is someone (who is) trustworthy and knows how to connect with people so that they listen to him and so that they will communicate with him. He’s good at his job, which is having his finger on the pulse of the program and knowing how to connect with people."
And this is where Easterby has left the Patriots so angry they could take it out on the scoreboard in December.
When it comes to Easterby, this is a man who has purported himself to be a man of the cloth, and the type of person you can confide your deepest secrets and fears in — and he does do that. He's not fraud or charlatan. But those aren't usually the type of people who move around the NFL very often — they hook on with one coach and stick with him. If they depart, it's usually for a lifetime college job or into the business world for bigger dollars.
They certainly don't hire an agent, like Easterby did with Lamonte, who is one of the best in the business at leveraging teams to the benefit of his clients. And you don't go to a rival in the same conference who could be challenging you in the years to come. Easterby has so much intel on the inner workings, including the thought processes of the Patriots, their coaches and players, that he's much more valuable than any coach, player or scout switching teams. That's kind of dirty pool, especially among teams with such close ties.
To those who watch "Billions" on Showtime, Easterby's departure would be like if Axe Capital performance coach/psychiatrist Wendy Rhoades left for Taylor Mason Capital. It is much more personal and potentially hurtful than if some analyst switched shops. She knows every person's strengths and weaknesses on a level no colleague could know. Rhoades knows how to push the right buttons to help her company's employees, or to take down someone who left (which played out in the show this season). It's similar with Easterby.
(And in keeping with Billions, sources have not ruled out that this entire Caserio scheme was put in motion by Easterby/Lamonte — and that Bill O'Brien, Caserio and the Krafts were unknowing pawns in Easterby's power play. Easterby knows all of the particulars involved intimately. He could have coaxed O'Brien and owner Cal McNair to make a play for Caserio, despite knowing Caserio's contract status. Easterby would have known that making a play for Caserio around the ring ceremony — a holy day on the Kraft Family calendar — would anger them to no end and possibly lead to warfare against the Texans. The fallout would be the Patriots drawing a hard line and holding Caserio to his contract, and O'Brien balking at sending a draft pick in compensation for Caserio when he would be a free agent in less than a year. That would leave a power void in Houston for Easterby himself to step into once he ingratiates himself in the organization. ... We're only a few steps away from Easterby sidling up to McNair and being in a position to take over Texans' entire football operations if O'Brien is fired after this season.)
Even if you don't watch the show, name one business where
it's OK no hard feelings remain when a person to leave for a competitor, and then actively recruit another to come with him or her just months later? Not only do most organizations have no compete/no recruit clauses, but, again, we're talking about a performance coach/confidant, not some beancounter.
Adding another layer to this was Easterby's shot at Robert and Jonathan Kraft on his way out the door. Not only did Easterby retweet Benjamin Watson's missive on sex trafficking in the wake of Kraft soliciting charge, but Easterby's displeasure with it was leaked to the media as part of the reason for his departure.
Additionally, sources believe Easterby let it be known in the building he was unhappy with Kraft's legal entanglement. When you're tasked as the moral compass of an organization and the most powerful person in that organization is in the news for that sort of situation, it's not exactly great on a résumé. And may have, in fact, let it be known directly to the Krafts, which would have set them off as well.
The final straw was Easterby, after leaving for a direct competitor with a shot at ownership out the door, returning to the Kraft home for the Super Bowl ring ceremony — doing a victory lap with congratulatory handshakes and hugs — and trying to stuff Caserio in his suitcase for the trip back to Houston.
The Krafts can tolerate a lot of things, but if you leave for a competitor with state secrets, take issue with some of their personal actions ... don't disrespect their family home by trying to poach someone else on your way out the door.
So, yes, the Patriots are very "pissed at Easterby," according to sources. But that resentment is believed to mostly reside with the Krafts — and we know how intense Jonathan Kraft can burn if he feels his family has been wronged (wellsreportcontext.com).
Does Belichick hold the same hard feelings? Some sources say yes, some say no. That will determine how much revenge New England is after come Dec. 1. The Patriots have not communicated any displeasure to the Texans. The McNairs and Krafts still have a good relationship. O'Brien is still held in high regard by Belichick and the organization.
No, this is about Easterby. And it's very personal.
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